October 05, 2007
According to a recent report delivered last June to U.S.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates by the Defense Department’s Task
Force on Mental Health, the U.S. military’s mental health system
“does not have enough resources, funding or personnel to adequately
support the psychological health of service members and their
families” during the current period of war in the Middle East.
Other reports also show that 38 percent of recently deployed U.S.
soldiers reported psychological problems upon returning home.
On October 5, St. John’s Department of Psychology will seek to
combat these trends when it hosts David Riggs, Ph.D., the Executive
Director of the Center for
Deployment Psychology, who will lead a free, daylong workshop
on the Queens campus titled “Meeting the Mental Health Needs of
Military Personnel and Their Families.”
Riggs is a licensed clinician and an expert in treating the
mental health of military servicemen and women struggling with the
psychological effects of war. Located in Bethesda, MD, the
federally funded Center for Deployment Psychology was developed to
provide training to psychologists and other behavioral health
specialists about issues pertaining to the deployment of military
The St. John’s workshop is geared toward psychology students and
faculty members, many of whom are already practicing clinicians, in
order to give them a greater understanding of the unique
mental-health needs of military personnel and prepare them to
provide specialized services to war veterans and their families in
an informed and compassionate way. Highlights of the workshop will
include sessions on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, military
culture and other stressors specific to military families.
“There is increasing concern about the ability to meet the
identified mental health needs of those returning from service, and
David has become one of the foremost trainers of practitioners
interested in tailoring their own clinical skills to meet the
particular needs of military personnel,” says Richard Morrissey,
Ph.D., Director of the St. John’s Center for Psychological
Services, which provides psychological services to community
residents and training opportunities to graduate psychology
students within the University’s clinical- and school-psychology
The workshop is co-sponsored by The Center for Psychological
Services and PARTNERS, a St.
John’s clinical-research program focusing on children and
Current statistics on U.S. soldiers “certainly indicate that the
rates of mental health problems relative to the rates of mental
health services are quite unequal,” says Associate Professor Elissa
Brown, Ph.D., the Director of PARTNERS and a professional colleague
of Riggs. Through the workshop, Dr. Brown, an expert in family
trauma and violence, and her students will explore ways in which
the families of U.S. soldiers are affected by deployment.
Brown explains that, during wartime, military-family structure is
challenged in three separate ways: During the pre-deployment
period, there is “anticipatory anxiety” among families, as soldiers
refocus their attention from family to war, thus creating distance
and often causing pain. During deployment, young children of
soldiers don’t always comprehend the situation, and military
spouses can become hobbled by loneliness or financial or emotional
stress. During post-deployment, soldiers often come home with
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or other mental health problems,
presenting several other obvious challenges to the family.
“Regardless of how you feel about why we’re [in Iraq and
Afghanistan], the lives of people deployed there and the lives of
their families are being impacted on multiple levels,’ says Brown,
citing recent data from the Journal of the American Medical
Association indicating that the national rates of child
maltreatment are 42 percent higher among military families than
Later this semester, Dr. Morrissey hopes to launch a
clinical-services initiative catering specifically to local war
veterans and their families. He says that tomorrow’s workshop is
the first step toward implementation.
“We want to be in the forefront of offering services to
returning veterans of the Iraq War,” he says. “It’s important for
students to get a sense of military culture. Most practitioners,
like myself, have never been in the military before and can’t
presume to know the mindset, let alone the typical combat
experiences that veterans have had.”